Understanding thinning hair and male pattern baldness

Breaking down the different types of hair loss, and the proven strategies to help you hold onto your follicles
By Abraham Co-Founder & CEO of FITTED October 30, 2019
Men's Hair Guide: Understand Thinning Hair & Male Pattern Baldness

The first step to resolving any “problem” is to understand it. There’s a multitude of different conditions that can cause hair loss, but the two most common that men experience are:

Male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia)- up to 85% of men will experience some form of a receding hairline or male pattern baldness by the time they’re 50, with the process starting as early as 20 for some guys. There are two primary patterns that this type of hair loss will take: receding from the temples of the forehead or thinning out from the crown of the head. In general, this type of hair loss happens progressively and will start with hair becoming thinner or finer at the temples or crown as the hair follicles shrink down. 

Stress-related thinning hair (telogen effluvium)- according to Eva Proudman of UK Hair Specialists, telogen effluvium is “a disruption to the hair’s growth cycle causing hair to shed prematurely, re-grow and shed again leading to a loss of overall hair density.” The good news on this one guys is that this type of hair loss can largely be recovered from, assuming you make the necessary changes in your lifestyle to reduce stress levels. 

An easy quick check is to look at the patterns below:

  • If your hair loss follows one of the patterns in the images below, it’s likely male pattern baldness
  • If the thinning is happening overall across your skull, it’s likely stress related

The definitive way to tell the difference between the two is to speak with your family doctor, and potentially a dermatologist, as both forms of hair loss are considered skin conditions.

How do I prevent hair loss?

As male pattern baldness sets in, your hair doesn’t just fall out one day and then never grow back, it’s a progressive process where the hair follicles shrink over time. The result is that your hair becomes thinner or finer at the temples and/or crown of the head, and eventually disappears as the follicles close up. Assuming you are dealing with male pattern baldness and not stress-related hair loss, then there are three proven and FDA approved options available to you to help you. These three options do not bring back to life follicles that have fully died, but instead help you keep the ones you have and potentially improve the thickness of them. 

Short answer- yes, Rogaine actually works.

Rogaine (or Regaine for EU readers) is the most widely known treatment for male pattern baldness and is one of the three proven & FDA approved treatment options. The active ingredient in Rogaine is a medicine called Minoxidil. Minoxidil increases the blood flow and nutrient uptake to shrinking hair follicles. The result is a slowed down, halted or in some cases, thickened set of hair follicles. IMPORTANT NOTE: it does not regrow hair follicles that have already fallen out.  Minoxidil is not a magic cure, it’s a long term play that requires you to apply it on a daily basis and can take months for you to see a result. 

Additional treatment options to hold onto your follicles

Two other FDA approved options are available to help treat male pattern baldness:

  • Finasteride (Trademarked as Propecia)- Finasteride is a pill that you take orally on a regular basis. Whereas Minoxidil works at the follicle directly, Finasteride inhibits the hormone dihydrotestosterone (DHT), which is what causes the follicle to shrink, and eventually fall out.
  • Laser combs- while many of these helmet and comb contraptions look like they’re straight out of an episode of Doctor Who, they are the only other FDA approved a treatment that does not involve medication. They are a bit pricey though, so make sure you do your research to ensure it’s an approved vendor & technology. 

If your follicles have already fallen out, then hair transplants are an option you can consider. According to Proudman, they are effective, but also an expensive and extreme option. If your hair loss has already proceeded into an advanced state, then you may want to consider our guide to hairstyles for men with thin hair and receding hairlines.